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July, 2016


New State Park Just a Few Miles Away

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After several months of waiting, those anxious to get their feet wet in the new Watkins Lake State Park and County Preserve can now do just that. Michigan’s 103rd state park is officially open.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources purchased 717 acres in Norvell Township from G.T. Ranch LLC, owned by Gary Trolz. Combined with 405 acres of contiguous land owned by the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission in Manchester Township, the property totals 1,122 acres. The Jackson-Washtenaw county line separates the ownership of the parcels.

“The DNR places a priority on providing additional opportunities for outdoor and history-based recreation and protecting valuable natural resources and wildlife habitat, especially in this part of the state,” said DNR Parks and Recreation Chief Ron Olson. “We believe [the park] will be popular with outdoor enthusiasts and an excellent waterfowl refuge and birding destination.”

Funding for the $2.9 million DNR purchase came from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, which helps acquire and develop public recreation lands. The Legacy Land Conservancy, based in Ann Arbor, played an important role in the coordination of the purchase.

Due to its proximity to Hayes State Park near Brooklyn, the maintenance and operations of the state side of the park will fall under Hayes’ operations.

Small yellow markers that read “Department of Natural Resources Boundary” are placed along Arnold Road, which runs through the park, to identify the state property boundary lines.

“We wanted to make sure we did our best to avoid any possible trespassing on neighboring properties,” said Jim O’Brien, manager of Hayes State Park who will also oversee operations at Watkins Lake. “We encourage the public to pay attention to those yellow boundary markers.”

O’Brien suggested if park goers want to venture into the park, they can see or call staff at Hayes State Park who will provide them with an aerial map.

The property features beautiful rolling lands covered in a mixture of open meadow, mixed hardwoods, low wetland areas and open water. Watkins Lake is the park’s most prominent natural feature. As a popular watchable wildlife destination, the lake holds large numbers of waterfowl during the spring and fall migration. It is one of the best inland lakes to observe canvasback ducks. The remainder of the park has diverse habitat that attracts white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, pheasants, cottontail rabbits and songbirds.

The park includes a 4.5-mile former rail corridor that traverses the property from east to west. The corridor links the state and county parcels and has the potential to be developed into a non-motorized multi-use trail, well-suited for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians.

The DNR and WCPRC will develop a memorandum of understanding outlining how they will work together to manage the park. “We’re going to work collaboratively and come up with a management plan for the co-managed site,” O’Brien said. The state park will be the first in Michigan to be jointly managed with a county recreation agency. “We’ll find out what types of recreation we want to allow in the different areas of the park,” he said. “A part of the management planning process will be to determine, long term, what locations at the park are going to be open to hunting. Over time we’ll mark those boundaries with signage so that the public can differentiate between what they can do in a certain zone and what they can’t do.”

Washtenaw County purchased their property with their preserve funds so that side of the park will have mostly passive recreation, with the exception of a multi-use trail. O’Brien said management plans generally take about a year in time after internal and public meetings. He said the process will most likely start in the fall and carry on throughout the winter. “We do surveys in advance, so there are a number of tools we use during the process to try to get as much public and stakeholder input as possible.” O’Brien said the surveys will likely be online.

In addition to at least one public meeting, there will also be a stakeholder meeting where potential partners, including relevant townships, conservation groups, and other stakeholders can provide input. O’Brien said media releases will be issued in advance of the meetings.“We want to make sure as many people get there as possible so we get a lot of feedback.”

O’Brien said he is currently working to obtain official state park designation for the state-owned portion of the park.

“Once we have ‘state park designation’ all the park rules and state land rules that apply to all of our state parks will apply to [the state-owned portion of the park],” he said. “Washtenaw County has their own rules that apply to [their ownership parcel], because they own it.” O’Brien expects to have the official state park designation completed within a couple weeks.

Once the designation is in place, park goers must have a state-issued recreation passport to enter the park. A parking area is in the process of being established north of Watkins Lake where Arnold Road bends.

“We thought that was a great location because it’s close to both sides of the property, Watkins Lake, as well as the rail corridor that already exists and is hikable now,” O’Brien said. To use that parking area, the recreation passport will be required and there will be a fee pipe available so people can purchase a recreation passport right there on site. “People who just want to drive through the park on Arnold Road will not need a recreation passport because it’s a county road that just happens to go through the state park,” he said.

O’Brien said that part of the management planning will be to eventually establish other parking areas.

The rail corridor is noticeably marked right off the parking area and a portion of it has been mowed, he said, so people can easily navigate it. “There is still much work to be done to make connections with other sections of the rail corridor.”

A draft management plan for the portion of the park in Washtenaw County has been completed, according to Coy Vaughn, manager of the county preserve and supervisor of park planning for the county. The purchase of the county land was made possible through the Natural Areas Preservation Program which facilitates the purchase of land featuring multiple conservation values.

“We are coordinating with the DNR to do a more comprehensive management plan for the entire property,” he said. “We want this to be kind of a seamless experience – to function as one park.”

Vaughn said they are still exploring which areas might be appropriate for parking on the Washtenaw County side of the park. Right now park goers who wish to explore that side of the park must still park in the one lot available north of Watkins Lake off Arnold Road, then walk the rail corridor into that side of the park.

Though there appear to be big plans for the rail corridor trail, he said the majority of the Washtenaw County property will be managed as a nature preserve.

“The recreation will be more passive and we’ll be more focused on the preservation of the natural areas,” Vaughn said, adding, “Although we are considering allowing some hunting in the areas closest to Jackson County.”

The park is rich in history, too. Royal and Sally Carpenter Watkins, who first farmed the land, played a key role in the Underground Railroad. Their well-documented history provides an interesting opportunity for historical interpretation at the site.

“There will be opportunities for us to look at interpretive signage and kind of tell the story of the important history of the site,” Vaughn said. He said interpretive signage will be implemented over the next two years.

“Right now we have kind of a soft opening. We really wanted to get the gates open so people can explore the property and the existing trail. Over the next couple of years we’ll starting phasing in some of the other uses and interpretive opportunities.”

Vaughn mentioned the possibility of eventually connecting Watkins’ rail corridor trail with trails leading to both Brooklyn and Manchester.

“If those communities wish to connect to it, we could have a trail from Manchester to Brooklyn,” he said. “That would be a big positive for the local economy.”

Many people from throughout the area have already been exploring the new park.

“There’s been a great deal of positive feedback so far,” said O’Brien. “We’ve already been monitoring the site and have seen a great deal of interest. There have been a lot of birders affiliated with the Jackson County Audubon group and the Dahlem Center. People really appreciate being able to get out there. It’s really positive for us, but it’s also going to be really positive for the local community. It’s going to add a great recreational opportunity to the area.”

O’Brien said they hope to establish a “friends group” for the park, something not new to the state park system. People in the group would help during volunteer work days as well with fundraisers for the site for additions such as park benches along the trail and interpretive signage.

“A lot of them bring expertise with them too,” he said. “They can really help in a variety of different ways, such as with programming and special projects.”

For more information about Watkins Lake State Park and County Preserve, contact Jim O’Brien for the state park portion in Jackson County at 517-467-7401, and Coy Vaughn for the Washtenaw County preserve portion at 734-971-6337, ext. 326,

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Reprinted with permission from The Exponent

Photos by Scott Bray

The Shrine of Saint Joseph

pusj shrine
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Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus, is one of the unsung heroes in the Bible.  Silent Joseph—no words of his are recorded in the scriptures—appears in the first two chapters of the gospels of Matthew and Luke, respectively.  Joseph, the master dreamer, is a man of no words but all action.  He witnessed the birth of Christ and protected the Holy Family from the scimitar of Herod.

Christians of many denominations pray to Joseph for the grace of a peaceful death.  But the man of heaven also influences us earth people.  Need to sell your house?  Pray to Saint Joseph.  Purchase a likeness of him, a statue or a picture, bury it in your yard, and pray that he will exert influence on the real estate market.

The story of Joseph as intercessor of home sellers is not superstition (I’m a little skeptical) but popular belief, at least in Catholicism.  When the housing market tanked in 2008 images of the saint flew from shelves in Christian bookstores nationwide.  I’m not making this up.  Amen, I say to you, as a journalist, a boy scout, and a former priest, I’m honest and front, even when she asks, “Do I look fat in this dress?”  Joseph is not a realtor but he has friends in high places.  Pray to him for he prays for you.

In my case, I prayed to Saint Joseph not to sell a house but to find what I wanted most: a home.  Joseph affirmed my prayer and I bought my hacienda, Villa Cordani, in a slice of heaven in the township.        

But the house of God is not for sale—Jesus affirmed that when he drove merchants from the Temple—its doors open wide for Christ regardless of denomination.  “All are welcome” contemporary choirs sing.  Most importantly Christians pray to Joseph for the grace of a peaceful death.  Who doesn’t wish for that?      


Driving toward Chelsea along East Michigan Avenue one notices the Shrine of Saint Joseph.  The mission of the shrine is to provide a site of prayer, reflection, and respite for the suffering and the dying and for those who pray for them, and to ask Joseph to intercede and fly petitions to heaven, a quicksilver messenger who’s eyes are watching heaven.    

On a recent Sunday morning in America I embarked on a pilgrimage to the shrine, a holy site across the road from the Oakwood cemetery.  It’s hard not to notice the shrine, with its faux copper roof, barnlike facade, and the larger-than-life crucifix at the back of the property surrounded by the Stations of the Cross.  A cradle catholic, I have no interest in selling my home—I just bought it—but wished to take a trip down memory lane.  In the little church childhood memories rose before me.  My catholicity means more to me than my ethnicity.  I look Irish but eat like an Italian.       

The Servants of Charity, whose members serve the shrine, are a Catholic order of priests established by Saint Louis Guanella Rome in 1908 to further his mission of service to persons with disabilities and the elderly.  Guanella, with the assistance the Vatican, established the Pious Union of Saint Joseph to be a society dedicated to prayer for the indigent.  The Grass Lake shrine provides a setting where people can pray for their beloved dead in a consecrated shelter.  Members of the Servants of Charity and the Daughters of Saint Mary of Providence, communities of catholic priests and nuns, devote their lives to praying for the suffering and the dying, offering hope to the world and our community in Li’l ol’ Grass Lake.  The prayers of the living hasten the souls of the deceased to heaven.  You must trust me on this.


I rejoiced to find the doors of the shrine ajar.  The pungency of incense from the recent service stings the nostrils.  Raised high roof beams and the oaken pulpit effect a warm atmosphere.  Clear windows, rather than stained glass, provide the sanctuary with natural light.  Joseph the carpenter could have crafted the building himself with his hammer and lathe.  Didn’t he then?             

On entering the shrine one sees the life-sized painting of Joseph on his knees before the Christ child with the legend at the top of the image Ite ad Joseph, Latin for, “Go to Joseph.”  Latin is the official language of the Catholic Church.  It isn’t spoken in Latin America but it retains pride of place in Vatican City.  When former vice president Dan Quale, preparing for a diplomatic mission to the Southern Hemisphere, quipped that he needed to “bone up” on his Latin the media denounced him as mental midget.  No surprises there. They’re so smart the recite preordained logical fallacies from their facelessness flanked by Teleprompters.      

Notwithstanding what the denizens of Manhattan and Hollywood sneer and jeer, religion is important to many people.  Not all Christians are “bitter clingers” but believe that there is something worth living for apart from this world.  I set my watch by that truth.   


The Saint Joseph Shrine is the result of Guanella, born in the Italian Alps in 1842, the region at the top of the boot from which my appetite originates.  Guanella was a kind man, his face set like flint by love and his hand open to the poor.  He died in 1915 and in 2011 the Church elevated him to the dignity of a saint, a “holy one” like Peter, Paul, and Mary.   

I know a good priest when I see one.  Despite the news media most priests are tireless servants devoted to their flocks.  True, some pastors are wolves in sheep’s clothing; that’s not exclusive to Catholicism.  I’ve lived with, worked with, and studied under many dedicated clerics who selflessly serve the people of God.  I was one of them once, still am though I no longer in the God Business.  To the one I see in the morning when I’m shaving I assign a grade of ‘B-minus.’  Small wonder I don’t shave often.

Guanella was ad populum, Latin for “a man of the people.”  He founded the Pious Union of Saint Joseph, the Confraternity of Prayer for the Suffering and the Dying, the Daughters of Saint Mary, and the Servants of Charity.  Catholic religious orders are communities whose members focus on a particular type of ministry.  Some work in hospitals.  Others staff parishes or teach at universities.  The Servants of Charity serve on six continents.  Like Dismas to the left of the Lord on the cross, their stock in trade is prayer, always in high demand.    


The Servants of Charity have labored in the vineyards of America since 1959.  In 1994 the local chapter renovated an abandoned cow barn into a shrine, choosing a design to reflect the rural character of Southeastern Michigan.  Not a stretch when one considers that the Son of God was born in a stable.    

“The community wanted to provide for the shrine and its mission,” said Joe Yekulis, communications director for the shrine and its adjacent ministry, the Saint Louis Center in Chelsea.

The connection between the shrine and the Saint Louis Center is that both are run by the Servants of Charity, with the Saint Louis Center devoted to residential care for persons with disabilities, and the shrine serving as a place to worship.

“The people of the U.S. are eager to support the poor,” said Yekulis, who worked in law enforcement and served as a commissioner in Washtenaw County.

Catholics and non-catholics hold the shrine in esteem and its doors are open to all.  “I am very grateful for the work being done by the Servants of Charity,” Bishop Earl Boyea, the leader of the region’s Roman Catholics, said in a statement.  “Their healing ministry to the suffering and the dying has touched so many lives.”  The life it touched has been my own.  I needed this holy sight after I left the ministry last year, to stand on hallowed ground and to help me answer questions I could not answer on my own.       

Father Satheesh Alphonse, originally from India, serves as director of the shrine.  He arrived in America in 2006.  The first time he saw snow, in October that year, he thought it was cotton.  He speaks perfect English but acknowledges that prior to emigration he needed to study American English after speaking the Queen’s English for most of his life.    

“Millions of devotees pray for the suffering and the dying,” Alphonse said.  “That’s what Saint Louis did when he founded our community.”

The Italian saint believed that there is the need to live well but an even greater need to die well.  “That’s the primary work for the nuns and the priests who live and work in Grass Lake,” Alphonse concluded.      

The Shrine of Saint Joseph is located at 953 East Michigan Avenue in Grass Lake.  Its website is at  Contact them at 517-522-8017.  Sunday devotion happens at 8 and 10 a.m.  Group pilgrimages can be arranged by appointment.  There is always room at the inn.



In the Spotlight- Jackson Indoor Storage

Jackson Indoor Storage
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Mark Belcher, a journeyman electrician for 38 years, was looking for a new venture.  There it was across the street from the house where he lives with his wife Linda on Lee Road.  It was Jackson Indoor Storage, a storage facility accompanied by a U-Haul dealership.  The Belchers crossed the rainbow and discovered a pot of gold.       

The U-Haul franchise is just the tip of the iceberg, what Mark describes as a “niche market.”

The ubiquitous orange and white vehicles are at the ready, sporting images of moose from Maine, breaching whales, aliens, and jungle spiders.  Belcher says that the U-Haul service comprises about 10 percent of the company’s revenue.  “Most people with U-Haul dealerships are also in storage,” he explains.  “We wouldn’t make enough money on U-Haul alone.”  However, he says, U-Haul turns out to be the best advertising billboard for the storage units.

The Belchers fell into the business somewhat providentially.  The buildings remained vacant for years after the previous owner abandoned it.  Mark maintained the property anyway, cleaning up debris on the grounds and mowing the tall grass “so I didn’t have to look at it,” he says.  Partiers lit bonfires on the weekend and littered the grounds with empty beer bottles.  “I got sick of seeing the bonfires and 20 cars parked in the lot every Saturday night.”  The unsavory odor of smoked leafy substances wafted toward the Belcher home and marred the aesthetics of the neighborhood.  Eventually Mark and Linda purchased the business.

The Belchers are devout Roman Catholics and members of Our Lady of Fatima church in Michigan Center.  Mark is a member of the Knights of Columbus, a worldwide catholic service organization.  He says that he was the first soul to be baptized at Fatima when the parish was established in 1954.  The interior of his office displays his devotion. It is as quiet and cool as a monastery and the walls and shelves are covered with religious icons and artwork.

There is more to Jackson Indoor Storage than its stock-in trade.  In the broad hallway sit exercise bicycles and a rowing machine, possibly merchandise customers left in the storage units.  Sitting on a desk in an empty cubicle is an early IBM 5100 computer, circa 1975, basically a television with a keyboard.  I was tempted to make an offer to round out my collection of antiquated writing machines and fritter my time playing Space Invaders.

Trailing the owners through the physical plant the potential customer views the heart of the business, the storage units.  They vary from spaces the size of a living room to larger ones as expansive as a small airport hangar.  The 25-acre land, says Mark, “has lots of potential,” for he has expansion in mind.    

“Outdoor facilities tend to get broken into,” he says.  And critters, such as mice—“ there’s not much you can do about them.”  Recent upgrades include newly installed storage units, freshly painted and ready for the end of boating season in a few months.  Snowbirds, retirees who divide the year between Michigan and Florida, rent space for their RVs, boats, and antique automobiles.  Storage units are temperature controlled and customers have 24/7 access to their material.  The interior is fully lighted with security cameras posted about the property.  Office space also is available.    

Jackson Indoor Storage is at 9353 Lee Road in Grass Lake.  The Belchers can be reached at 517-522-3850.  Information on storage needs can be found at

School Board Candidates

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We are not even through the primary election and it’s time to talk about the general election. While the general election is discussed pretty much 24/7/365 these days in regards to the presidential election, especially with the party conventions going on, the local races can be just as important.

Tuesday was the filing deadline for candidates to have their names appear on the ballot for the Grass Lake Community Schools School Board. There are two slots available in the school board and only two candidates have submitted their petitions as of the deadline. Assuming their petitions are valid, Janey Bisard and Eric Burk are the only two candidates.

This election is a non-partisan, so there is no primary election like there is for the Township Board positions.

Village Council Candidates

Welcome to the Village of Grass Lake
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Tuesday marked the deadline for candidates to file to appear on the ballot for positions on the Village Council. Three members terms expire this year; Esther Fearer, Carolyn Rees and Cheryl Vicory. Esther Fearer announced at the last Village Meeting that she did not intend to run for office again this year.

The Village elections are considered non-partisan, so there is no primary for them, unlike the Township positions that require running under a declared party.

Those filing petitions as of the 4:00 Tuesday deadline are: Gina Lammers, Carolyn Rees  (incumbent) and Cheryl Vicory (incumbent).

The General Election is November 8, 2016.

100 Years Ago- Some Excitement in Grass Lake Saturday Evening

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July 1916

Some Excitement in Grass Lake Saturday Evening

It seems comparatively easy for convicts to get away from Jackson prison farms this summer. It is reported that five escaped last week.  The fifth one was Charles Rosbury, who was sentenced from Presque Isle, Dec. 24, 1912, for breaking and entering a store in the night for a term of fifteen years.

On Saturday afternoon he walked away. About fifteen minutes after deputy sheriff, Harry Worden, had received a description of him he walked into the Worden ice cream parlor and ordered an ice cream soda. This was about ten o’clock on Saturday night.

Worden at once thought he might be the fellow but the description sent out of him declared that he had one gold tooth while this fellow had two. This fact made Worden hesitate to arrest him. Worden questioned him however and the fellow became suspicious and hurried out of the ice cream parlor and ran.

Deputy Sheriff Worden followed him and chased him down toward the D.U.R. tracks. He caught him near N.F. Wing’s house. The convict knifed Worden cutting him badly in the hand and broke away running across the track, where he jumped the fence and escaped in the darkness.

Worden and his helpers phoned Jackson and the sheriff and his deputies and officers from the prison came out at once in two automobiles. The prison auto went on to Chelsea while the Sheriff’s auto stopped at the Sylvan road where they waited thinking the convict might come along the track. In about ten minutes he showed up. He was called upon to stop but broke and ran. Deputy Sheriff’s Worden and Kutt ran him down and succeeded in capturing him after four shots had been fired.

The officers finally overpowered him and handcuffed him and found that he still had the knife in his hand. It was taken away from him and he was placed in an auto and hurried to Jackson where he was placed again behind prison bars.

100 Years Ago is gathered by Linda Lockwood Hutchinson.

Grass Lake’s Population Continues to Grow

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New housing starts, increased student enrollments, new businesses and much more are all signs that Grass Lake is growing. Well, the  latest released census numbers back those observations up with crisp, hard numbers.

The July 15, 2015 numbers were recently released by the US Census Bureau. Grass Lake’s population, which includes the Village was 5,901 compared to 5,684 in 2010. That’s a 3% increase over the last 5 years.

Jackson County by comparison saw a small decrease of .5% to 159,494 compared to 160,248 in 2010.

Most states, cities, Zip Codes and townships can be reviewed at:

Village of Grass Lake statistics were unavailable.

By comparison, the entire United States of America is estimated to be 321,418,820.

Michigan’s population is estimated at 9,922,576, up from the 2010 low of 9,884.29.

The City of Jackson is estimated at 33,133, down from 33,534

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Grass Lake Housing Market On the Rise